Wednesday, May 16, 2007

One empty raincoat and a fat portfolio to boot

In 1999 a colleague introduced me to Charles Handy's "The Empty Raincoat". At the time I was building my career in London, working in the music copyright industry, but not sure what to do next. Suddenly, I discovered the advantages of a portfolio lifestyle, presented by Handy as the future of working. Promises of great opportunities lay ahead, as Handy described a portfolio lifestyle as one where instead of working for one employer, people would become occupied in a multitude of applications ranging from unpaid work to paid work. Most importantly, according to Handy, people who applied themselves in this way would be happier as they could break free from the chains that tied themselves to the traditional workplace.

How idyllic I thought, surrounding myself with daydream images of buttercups, happy smiles, rainbows, sipping cappuccinos, etc. So, filled with thoughts of happiness I guessed I'd give it a go. Somehow or other I turned my full-time job into a part-time job, working for the same company but as a consultant. I also got a contract working with a former employer and committed to one full day a week, volunteering as a classroom assistant in a local school. I quickly found my unpaid work more fulfilling than my paid work. I got the bug and also volunteered as a weekend information assistant at a papermaking factory which was emerging as a national tourist attraction and education centre.

However, the reality soon hit home that I needed more income to pay for our mortgage in the expensive Hertfordshire commuterland and when I was headhunted to set up a research department in London, my flirtation with a portfolio lifestyle came to an end and I got back onto the treadmill.

Having since left my profession to focus on having children and raising my young family (now in beautiful Suffolk), I haven't given much thought to the portfolio lifestyle after which I once hankered. I've just got on with bringing up the children and supporting my husband in his work.

That said, I have my own interests which have developed over the last few years. I volunteer at my son's primary school and I sometimes write for a local magazine. I love creative stuff and I really enjoy teaching others and have set up a number of income-generating workshops along the way. It's what I would call a pocket-money business rather than anything else. Having halved our income, by giving up "proper work" I was keen to develop and relaunch a local bartering system (LETS) to share resources with our local community.

It's only when I recently read an article called "Making our own way" in Juno (a family magazine) and became immersed in the author's representation of her own portfolio lifestyle, did I realise that she was referring to my type of lifestyle that I now enjoy.

I feel very lucky to be in the position of enjoying a bit of dibble-dabbling. Last year I registered as self-employed so that I can declare properly my part-time earnings. However, it's not necessarily the money that I find rewarding. Instead it's the range of experiences that come with it and the flexibility it offers to be with my family at the right time that now float my boat, so to speak.

As my history shows, it is a difficult task to get off the treadmill when you are ensconsed in a full-time job or have a big mortgage. What worked for us was for me to be brave encough not to go back to work after having a baby and having the opportunity to relocate away from commuterville shortly afterwards.

At the time, we couldn't afford for me not to work but we took out a short-term overdraft and looked for ways of changing our lifestyle to enable me to be at home with the children. Many people take out car-loans for a new car. This was just the same, but instead we were committing to a lifestyle of downshifting. We bought a smaller house than we felt we needed (wanted) but have since benefited from a couple of rises in my husband's pay-packet. This has meant that the risk that we took has paid off and we can still lead a comfortable and more enjoyable lifestyle that suits us.

I am still tempted by the odd four bedroom house with a conservatory, but when I sway from my goals my husband shows me the recruitment pages in the Sunday papers. That's enough to send me back to my dibbling and dabbling on the two days a week that I have reserved for such excitement!


Baba said...

Hi there
I too have been inspired by Handy's work during periods of personal development and life progression - your blog has prompted me to re-visit his advice !!
Baba x

Ruby in Bury said...

A much happier choice than the work every day, chained to an employer kind of lifestyle.

From a fellow dibble-dabbler!!